Thurgood Marshall’s high dropout rate studied

Only three black boys graduated from Thurgood Marshall Academic High School last year.

That staggering statistic led students Donel Finks, Angelica Escobar, Edgar Ulu, Fernando Torrez and Frank Nelson to explore the underlying factors that cause so many of their peers to drop out.  

Their five-minute-long documentary — “Why So Low?” — was the winner of the high school division at this year’s My Hero International Film Festival, which celebrated its sixth anniversary Saturday.

The festival is part of the My Hero Project, a nonprofit organization started by Karen Pritzker, Jeanne Meyers and Rita Stern in 1995 as a response to the lack of inspiring stories in the media.

“It started as a way for people around the world to celebrate humanity and as a tool for students, activists and teachers to have a way to share stories about their heroes,” said Emma Olson, development consultant for the My Hero Project.

The group of five Thurgood Marshall students examined why the second-largest racial group at their school had the lowest graduation rates in “Why So Low?”

According to Olson, the filmmakers conducted research and interviewed members of their student body, administrators and teachers to determine how they could counteract the incredibly low graduation rate.

They found that the dropout rate is largely due to a lack of resources rather than a lack of skills. Thirty percent of families in the area earn less than $10,000 a year, and local kids make up 27 percent of the youths in the juvenile system.

The screening of “Why So Low?” at the film festival shed light on the unfortunate reality that many black youths face on a daily basis.  

“My Hero provides a platform for communication, collaboration and creative expression,” Olson said.

On Saturday, 72 films were awarded and 39 individuals or organizations received special Hero awards for effecting positive change either in their local community or the global community, Olson said.

This year’s Best of Fest Award winner was a film illustrating the philosophy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her Kenya-based environmentalist non-governmental organization.

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

Finishing school

Profile of Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, 2008-09.

713 Enrollment

24.7% Percentage of students who are black

176 Number of black students

2.7% Dropout rate for entire school

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